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4 December 2020

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Noon Briefing Guest on Monday

All right . Good afternoon.  Just a programming note that on Monday, we will have beamed in here the Resident Coordinator from Addis Ababa, Catherine Sozi, who is not only the Resident, but the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia.  She will update you on the situation on the ground.  We will try to have her by video, as… but the Wi‑Fi is all spotty, so it may just be audio.  But she will be…as of now she will be joining us on Monday.

**Nagorno-Karabakh

I have a statement on Nagorno-Karabakh.  The Secretary-General takes note of the 3 December joint statement on the situation in Nagorno‑Karabakh issued by the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co‑Chair countries.  He welcomes the continuing adherence to the ceasefire in accordance with the 9 November joint statement by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the President of the Russian Federation, and he calls on all concerned to continue implementing their obligations, notably as they relate to international humanitarian law and human rights law.  The Secretary‑General underlines that the United Nations is prepared to respond to the humanitarian needs in all areas affected by the conflict, and to scale up ongoing assistance in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as required.  He calls on all relevant actors to cooperate fully with the United Nations entities to ensure their unfettered access.  The Secretary‑General urges Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE’s Minsk Group Co‑Chairs to reach a lasting peaceful settlement. He encourages the Governments and the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan to embark on a path of dialogue and to foster regional peace, stability, and prosperity.

**Gulf

A note on something… I think, James, you asked about which is the situation in the Gulf, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is encouraged by the statement by the Foreign Minister of Kuwait and other reports that the Gulf rift is close to a resolution.  The Secretary‑General welcomes the efforts and contributions of Kuwait in building bridges of understanding in the Gulf region and beyond, and he hopes that all countries involved in the dispute will work together to formally resolve their differences.  He stresses the importance of Gulf unity for regional peace, security and development.

**Climate Change - United Kingdom

And on climate change, you will recall, in his recent speech at Columbia University, the Secretary‑General called on the major emitters to lead the way in taking decisive action now to get on the right path towards achieving net zero by mid‑century, which means cutting global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.  In this light, the Secretary-General welcomes today’s historic announcement by the United Kingdom of its new National Determined Contribution with a 2030 target of at least 68 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reductions as compared to 1990 levels.  The Secretary‑General looks forward to all leaders submitting more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions before COP 26 (twenty‑sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), in line with achieving global carbon neutrality before 2050.

**Security Council

And at a virtual meeting at the Security Council on cooperation between the UN and the African Union, the Secretary‑General pointed out that our collaboration with the AU, as well as the African economic communities and other regional mechanisms, has never been stronger.  He commended the leadership and solidarity demonstrated in the pandemic in the African continent.  Mr. Guterres also highlighted the important achievements resulting from our cooperation with the African Union, but reminded Council members that the challenges loom large.

The Secretary-General said that our organizations and our actions in Africa would benefit from a stronger institutionalization of our cooperation at every level.  He also called for more action to involve and engage women and youth in the peace and security agenda.  He reiterated his appeal for African‑led peace and counter‑terrorism operations to receive Security Council mandates, under Chapter VII, as well as predictable funding guaranteed by assessed contributions.  Finally, the Secretary-General repeated his appeal for a global ceasefire.  His remarks have been shared with you.

**Deputy Secretary-General - COVID-19

The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the General Assembly’s Special Session in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Amina Mohammed said that our strategy has three complementary tracks:  supporting the continued delivery of health services, responding to humanitarian needs; and supporting national Governments with their emergency socioeconomic response and recovery efforts.

So far, she said that these efforts have helped 71 countries implement over 300 social protection policies, supported the provision of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene supplies to 25 million people, and helped more than 100,  companies stay afloat.  But, the Deputy Secretary‑General added that we are keenly aware that our response must go further, stressing that the decisions taken over the next 12 months will have impacts for decades to come.

**Ethiopia - Humanitarian

And on Ethiopia, following the agreement between the UN in Ethiopia and the Federal Government on access for aid organizations, UN agencies are ready to ramp up assistance to people in need in the Tigray region.  In the town of Shire in Tigray, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners have dispersed water, food, clothes, blankets and other supplies to some 5,000 internally displaced people.

UNHCR says that it continues to receive disturbing reports regarding Eritrean refugee camps in the region with which there are no communications.  UNHCR is also in talks with the Federal Government’s refugee agency on logistics and on the need to assess the security situation before the resumption of humanitarian activities.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) says its priority is to locate 50,000 refugees who received WFP assistance in four camps in Tigray prior to the start of the conflict.  The agency says that it is possible some of these people may have fled during the fighting.  WFP says that, overall, 1 million people had been receiving support before the fighting. It said that the latest violence may have disrupted its existing operations in Tigray and led to more people to needing support.  More information online.

**Sudan

In terms of Sudan, UN Refugee Agency said today that more than 47,000 Ethiopians have now arrived in search of safety.  A small number of Eritrean refugees have also arrived from the Tigray region in recent days.  UNHCR and the Sudanese authorities have now moved more than 11,000 refugees from the Hamdayet and Abderafi border points to Um Rakuba camp, 70 kilometres away from the [Ethiopian] border.  UNHCR says that many refugees say they prefer to remain near the border to wait for family members who are still in Ethiopia, in the hopes they will be able to return home.  The refugees also say they are fearful of more violence inside Tigray.

**Syria

And on Syria, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, spoke to the press just a few minutes ago in Geneva, the conclusion of the fourth session of the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee.  He said that a wide range of topics were discussed.  While there were many differences, they were expressed respectfully and in a business‑like manner.  Mr. Pedersen said that there were also quite a few areas where it is possible to see common ground.

He, and the Co-Chairs and the Small Body Committee members will return to Geneva for a Fifth Session at the end of January [2021], 25‑29, COVID‑19 restrictions permitting, of course.  They will begin, in accordance with the Mandate… they will begin, in accordance with the Mandate, Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure of the Committee, to discuss constitutional principles and basic principles of the constitution.

**Bhutan - COVID-19

Bear with me, just a few more updates, this one from Bhutan, where our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Gerald Daly, has been supporting local authorities in respond to the health and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, mobilizing more than $1 million in extra revenues.  UN agencies have been providing cleaning, protective and medical supplies and equipment, as well as support to the Government on how to expand cold storage infrastructure for potential vaccines.  The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) is supporting an assessment of COVID‑19 on the tourism and manufacturing sectors, while the Food and Agriculture Organization worked with the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Agriculture and Health to communicate the importance of boosting local agricultural support.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supported the creation of emergency shelters and partnered with Goodwill Ambassadors, including Her Majesty Queen Mother Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, on preventing gender‑based violence and providing access to safe counselling and reproductive health support.

**International Volunteer Day

Tomorrow is also International Volunteer Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General says that this year, we are highlighting the important contributions of volunteers to the response to COVID‑19.  The Secretary-General notes that as we gradually recover from the pandemic, volunteers will have a key role to play in accelerating the transition to green, inclusive and just economies.  He appeals to all Governments to promote volunteering, support volunteer efforts and recognize volunteer contributions to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Volunteers deserve our heartfelt thanks, he said.

**World Soil Day

And tomorrow is World Soil Day.  This year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization campaign, named “Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity”, aims to raise awareness on the importance of sustaining healthy ecosystems and human well‑being.  Lots of more information on that in the Food and Agriculture Organization [website].  Célhia, and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do missions have an obligation to report cases of COVID‑19 to the UN medicals when one of the diplomat is tested… or has been tested positive?  What are the rules?  I heard that Mission of Australia and Brunei have cases.  Did they report it?  And why don’t we know?

Spokesman:  As you know, we have no authority over the diplomatic community.  They’re not UN staff, so they’re not obligated to report numbers to us.  I’ve not heard of any… the ones you’ve mentioned.  Obviously, you would need to contact those Permanent Missions to get confirmation.  We would always appreciate being advised by Permanent Missions ‑ many of them… some of them have ‑ when necessary, as it is critical to contact tracing.

Question:  [Inaudible.]

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  [Inaudible.]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, Célhia, you and I have been around these halls for quite some time.  We cannot oblige members of the Permanent Missions to do anything.  We would call on their, on them to voluntarily do so, and also very much, very importantly, keep the New York City health authorities apprised.  Mr. Bays.

Question:  First, can I check on two things I asked recently?  One, have you got an update on Bangladesh and what the situation is?  These people are being transported.  Is the UN now aware that they all are happy to be transported?  And any more update on the numbers and the arrangements?

Spokesman:  And what was the other question you had?

Question:  And the other question from before was about peacekeeping and particularly Tigrayan peacekeepers and whether any more had been disarmed or returned home and whether you had ascertained the whereabouts and safety of those that have already been repatriated to Ethiopia, in particular the Deputy Force Commander in Abyei.

Spokesman:  Okay.  On the Tigrayan, on the situation of certain Ethiopia peacekeepers, I have no update to what I’ve said to you, but this continues to be an issue of concern with us, and we are speaking to the, we’ve been speaking to various parties, including the Ethiopian Permanent Mission here.  On the other issue of Myanmar, we have heard some reports from the camps that some refugees may be feeling pressured into relocating to the island of Bhasan Char or may have changed their initial views about relocation and no longer wish to move. If so, they should be allowed to remain in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.  And we have also seen troubling images of some distressed refugees sharing… during yesterday’s relocation process.  We have shared those concerns with the authorities in Bangladesh.  Our long‑standing position, which bears repeating, is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char should take place before any relocation.  That’s essential for us in terms of providing a way forward for any UN engagement on this process.  We have not been involved. And, of course, any movement of refugees needs to be done voluntarily and in safety and dignity.

Question:  Can I ask you about this morning’s Security Council meeting, because the technical problems never seem to stop.  And I think it’s fair to say anyone watching this morning’s meeting would say it was embarrassing to see the Secretary‑General having to stop and start his speech, to see the same… you know, the President of South Africa trying to moderate this when the technology was falling apart.  Can you explain to us what keeps going wrong?  Perhaps can you explain to us who provided this technology to the UN, which country it comes from, which company, how much the UN paid for this software and whether it was properly stress‑tested?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Look, we, we’re not happy with the problems that we’ve seen yesterday and today, though I think it bears explaining the kind of technical context we’re working in, which is the remote participants, remotely working, the interpreters working remotely, as well as other officials.  The meeting was basically serviced by two different IT solutions, the UN video conferencing system and then, on top of that, a remote interpretation platform.  The remote interpretation platform is designed specifically to optimise audio quality to facilitate interpretation in the six languages.  The combination of platforms has successfully supported previous meetings with some minor issues, as I… and I think there have been very few video calls that we’re all on where there isn’t at least one minor issue.  The Security Council has tested and used other solutions but determined that, currently, there’s no single solution that would offer a better alternative than the ones we used.  And I would add, you know, the complex setting is also with the interpreters working remotely, different equipment, different Internet connectivity when we’re working with a host of different countries, especially when you’re dealing with high‑level officials, there will be technical problems.  There will be human problems, of the humans’ interaction with technology.  And we take every possible precaution in terms of stress‑testing and testing, but sometimes, unfortunately, problems do happen.

Question:  Quick follow‑up.  Seems to me the weak link in the chain is the… adds to it is the translation.  Why do the, given this is a completely empty building, why do the interpreters have to work remotely?  They could come in very safely, socially distanced and operate from here and have direct interface to the technology.

Spokesman:  Well, some do, but UN staff, like all of us, some people have different home circumstances where they may not be able to travel for health reasons or for other reasons.  So, we have some interpreters in the building.  Others don’t.  The issue… when people work from home, there’s an issue of Internet connectivity.  There’s an issue of Internet connectivity with some of the remote delegates, as well.  Carla, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There’s an enormous demonstration in India. According to NPR, it’s the largest demonstration in recorded history of Indian farmers protesting the neoliberal laws that Prime Minister Modi is imposing upon the Indian people.  The poor, the majority, the poor are becoming more destitute. It’s hard to define it.  And I know you were asked couple of days… well, first, what does the UN have to say about the fact that these demonstrators are being met by tear gas and the usual repressive measures by the Modi Government?  And, also, you were asked, what… does the Secretary‑General believe in democracy?  And, so, I would ask for, can you define democracy, because a country which has lifted 800 million people out of poverty is called socialist whereas India is driving…?

Spokesman:  Carla, I… it’s a fascinating discussion about what is democracy, how do you define democracy?  It’s, I think it’s more for a graduate seminar.  We want to see people have a voice in their lives.  As to the question of India, what I would say to you is what I’ve said to others when raising these issues is that people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and authorities need to let them do so.  Majeed.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question on COVID.  All the UN‑backed accelerator programme for COVID test, treatment, vaccines all combined have raised around only $10 billion of the $38 billion or nearly $40 billion it needs. How frustrated is the Secretary‑General on this lack of action on the global level with regard to the COVID crisis?

Spokesman:  Frustrated is a word that we’ve been, seem to be using quite a bit in this briefing room.  I would say he would have liked to have seen much more, a much higher rate of investment by those countries who can to the various international facilities for the vaccine.  I think he was very clear in outlining the gap that remains in his remarks to the General Assembly session on COVID‑19. He was very clear in thanking those who had given and very clear on saying more needs to be done.  Sorry.  I have to… there are just way too many ways to communicate with people these days.  Sylviane.  Zehil, madame?

Question:  Yes, did you hear me?  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I hear you now.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m… the international comm… my question is on Lebanon and also on COVID.  The International Conference on Lebanon on December 2nd, 2, expressed concern about the delays in the investigation into the 4 August blast of the Port of Beirut.  And in this report, in this report, SG, and implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), the SG stated that there was no progress on the investigation on the massive explosion that occurred at the Port of Beirut on August 4.  There are numerous calls for accountability, including two important independent, thorough and transparent investigation.  Any action is… there are… is there any action being taken by the SG for thorough investigation?

Spokesman:  Well, we have always stated and right from the beginning to the Lebanese authorities that we are happy to assist and to help in any way should we get a formal request.

Question:  But is it there… there is… we need a quick investigation.  It’s been like now for… since 4 August. It’s been a long time…

Spokesman:  No, we… I understand.  But Lebanon… Lebanon, like every member of these United Nations is a sovereign country.  The UN can’t just go in and investigate without a request, without a mandate and so forth.  But we would… I think the view is that this investigation should be completed as quickly as possible.  And it has, unfortunately, taken a lot of time.

Question:  President Macron will be visiting Lebanon on December 20th.  Will the SG do the same in visiting Beirut and the explosion site?

Spokesman:  No, there are no plans for the Secretary‑General to travel to Lebanon at this time.  And I would add that we are… he is represented, very actively, by Ján Kubiš, the Special Coordinator.

Question:  But his presence in the, in Beirut and the blast site would be a good message to Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

Spokesman:  Okay…

Question:  Don’t you think…?

Spokesman:  … noted with thanks, as we say.

Question:  Another thing.  Regarding COVID‑19 vaccination campaign, would the SG be ready to be vaccinated? Given the mistrust that hangs over the subject, how can we be sure that the vaccine will be received publicly like the three old… other President who will be receiving the vaccine?  Is… how can we be sure that this official vaccination is not a placebo?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it is very important to combat misinformation.  It is very important to take decisions based on science.  And, in due course, the Secretary‑General will definitely take a vaccine.  Okay.  Yes, sir.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  I don’t know if you talk about that.  I’m sorry, I came late, but there was a mediation of Kuwait and United States between Gulf countries.  I don’t know if the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  Yes, no, I said something right in the beginning, which we expressed, we said we were encouraged by the statements of the Foreign Ministry of Kuwait and that we welcome the efforts and contributions of Kuwait in building bridges and understanding in the Gulf region.  But I read out a longer thing in the beginning.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay, unless I see somebody wave or speak up, I will enjoy my weekend, because it is Friday, and no one’s going to take that away from us, inasmuch as Brenden may try, yeah.  [Laughter.]  All right.

For information media. Not an official record.